Brown Bear Car Wash, which runs more than 40 car washes in Washington, sent employees home at 3 p.m. on Sunday, as temperatures in Seattle peaked at 104 degrees. On Monday, when afternoon temperatures soared further to 108, the company closed up shop at 1 p.m.
“There have been a couple of times where we’ve closed down sites because it was too cold,” said Chief Financial Officer Steve Palmer, who started at Brown Bear in 1986, “but we’ve never closed them down because it was too warm.” Many locations require employees to be primarily outdoors, guiding cars into position as they enter the car wash tunnel, he said.
Will Anstey, owner of West Seattle-based Devonshire Landscapes, decided to make Monday a mandatory day off, citing employee safety. “It’s not worth the health risks,” he said.
Many businesses and workplaces in the Seattle area have made adjustments since Saturday to handle the historic heat wave sweeping the Pacific Northwest, focused on protecting their employees.
At the same time, the unprecedented heat drove exceptional demand for some enterprises as customers sought cooling shelter.
Palmer said closing down locations during these “prime car-washing days” is a major hit to sales, unlike shutting down during cold weather. “But it’s the right thing to do,” he said, adding that Brown Bear paid all employees for the lost hours due to the early shutdown.
Air travel was also affected on Monday. Alaska Airlines said only “a small fraction” of its flights to and from Seattle were canceled, although the airline did face widespread delays.
“The tarmac delays that you’re seeing are … a result of the impact the heat is having on our staff,” especially during arrivals, said airline spokesperson Alexa Rudin. The airline was delivering water and cool towels, and encouraging airport crews to take rest breaks in “cool down vans” with air conditioning, which has slowed operations. The airline said the tarmac can get up to 20 degrees warmer than the outdoor temperature, meaning runways may have approached 130 degrees on Monday.
Businesses whose workers are indoors have also been forced to make adjustments.
As temperatures spiked, Amazon sent workers at one of its Kent warehouses home with pay Monday afternoon, spokesperson Maria Boschetti confirmed. One worker in the facility Monday morning estimated interior temperatures hovered close to 90 degrees, and noted that not all of the floor fans Amazon installed last weekend were still functional. Boschetti did not immediately respond to a question about whether the warehouse closure was due to excessive heat, but said site leadership was monitoring the building’s temperature.
For restaurants, kitchen heat has become a major concern.
Dick’s Drive-In closed its Capitol Hill branch on Monday as a safety precaution for employees, since that old structure on Broadway East lacks air conditioning and is poorly insulated, company management said. They plan to reopen Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. The other six Dick’s locations all have air conditioning and will remain open during the heat wave, management said.
In the Chinatown International District, the popular Sichuan restaurant Chengdu Taste announced that it would close through Tuesday. Its AC unit broke down three weeks ago, and staff over the weekend hung up plastic bags of ice and also use fans to cool down the dining room, management said. But the icepacks and fans weren’t enough to cool down its customers or kitchen staff for dining in.
The heat did provide a big opportunity for businesses that could keep employees working safely and also offer customers air-conditioned refuge.
By midday Monday, Bill Cecil, 77, was about to watch his second movie of the day in a theater. In the morning, he went to Landmark’s Crest Cinema Center in Shoreline to get out of his apartment, which doesn’t have air conditioning. Speaking at Regal Thornton Place, he said he had a ticket for “The Sparks Brothers.” “I heard the movie is good, and they have air conditioning,” he said.
Busier movie theaters are a welcome change in a sector that has been battered by the pandemic. David McRae, owner of the Ark Lodge Cinemas in Columbia City, said that despite the heat (and the theater’s air conditioning), he has seen only a modest bump in business. “We are still nowhere near the level of business we should be having, even with the heat wave,” he said in an email. He’s hopeful that the Marvel superhero movie “Black Widow,” opening July 8, will bring crowds back.
At area hotels, “We heard stories of lines out the door” and an “all hands on deck mentality” to help deal with surging demand, said Addie Davis, a spokesperson for Visit Seattle, a marketing organization for Seattle tourism. She said the 10 hotels she spoke with Monday all said they saw “significant increase” in occupancy, especially in the downtown core, all attributed to the heat wave.
Scientists have said this recent heat wave can be attributed to climate change, and it may be an indication of Washington’s shifting weather patterns.
Anstey, of Devonshire Landscapes, said he certainly thinks about the impact of warming weather on his own business. He’s started looking at robotic lawn mowers, which may be useful during intense heat. And he’s begun recommending more drought-tolerant plants to customers. The recent weather hasn’t left much room for error along those lines.
“In the past, I had plenty of room for a couple more degrees and a little more sunshine,” he said, “but nothing like this.”